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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Looking for a Sign

Matthew 12:22-50

Lesson audio

It’s a common complaint: “If only I could see one genuine miracle…” The human heart behind that complaint is not so straight as it might seem.

League with Beelzebub

Mat 12:22-37 NIV Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. (23) All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" (24) But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub,[4] the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." (25) Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. (26) If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? (27) And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. (28) But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (29) "Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house. (30) "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. (31) And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. (32) Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (33) "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. (34) You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. (35) The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. (36) But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. (37) For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

House Divided

For those who are fond of polite and thoughtful conversation, I recommend staying away from conspiracy theorists. A conspiracy theory is always provable – to those who believe. No evidence to support your claims? No problem; that’s just a sign of how well the cover up was done. Which, of course, points to a more powerful set of conspirators. Add to this the deluded (the public, the press, National Geographic, etc. ) and you have ample proof of whatever conspiracy you believe. Thanks to the internet, you can now swap evidence with other believers – which makes your case overwhelming. No doubt about it; Noah’s ark was really a flying saucer.

How does one separate the real from the fake in this? I would suggest one test which might apply: the test is “might makes right.” To form a conspiracy implies an evil purpose; those with evil purposes usually proclaim righteousness while implementing with the sword. Ultimately, their justification (at least to themselves) is that they needed such power to advance their noble cause. The rest of us look at it somewhat differently. It’s a good test: can you see not only evil intent but also the self justification of “might makes right?”

But beware of one particular trap: the “it must have been” theory. Modern liberals “know” the Bible is false, therefore it couldn’t really have been that way, therefore the Bible is false. It must have been like that.

Unforgivable sin

For our purposes in this lesson, this section is a detour. However, the matter is sufficiently important that we should explain it as best we can. People sometimes believe they have committed the unforgivable sin (which is very likely a sign that they haven’t.) How so?

·         It is called the “sin against the Holy Spirit.” Therefore we must understand what could be such a sin.

·         The purpose of the Holy Spirit in mankind is to convict the sinner of sin, righteousness and judgment to come.[1]

·         To deny that one is a sinner, or to deny that righteousness exists, or to deny that judgment will come, is to sin against the Holy Spirit.

Think of salvation as a multi-step process. The first step might be to recognize righteousness; the next to be convicted of sin, following which there might be the recognition of judgment. Miss any of these steps, and you fall off the path of salvation – which quite obviously can’t be forgiven. Such rejection soon shows up in conduct.

Words as fruit

We see here an instance of Christ telling us the obvious: what comes off your lips is simply the fruit of what’s in your heart. Have you noticed…

·         Hypocrites love to talk! There’s no sense in being self righteous if you don’t draw attention to it.

·         The usual method is “comparative judgment.” Something like, “I’m not perfect, but at least I don’t act like…” And, usually, it’s factual. Irrelevant, but factual.

There is only one consistent answer: we’re all sinners. If we would but admit it.

Demanding A Sign

Mat 12:38-45 NIV Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you." (39) He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (40) For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (41) The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one[5] greater than Jonah is here. (42) The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. (43) "When an evil[6] spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. (44) Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. (45) Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation."

Seeking a Sign – a sign of evil

Suppose, for a moment, you could perform miracles. Can you imagine how friendly all the people you know would suddenly become? But go a little further; would it take very long for them to begin to take you for granted? Call you up each day with their laundry list of miracles for you to accomplish? How long would it be before you began to place limits on such things?

Combine this, please, with the fact that the miracle worker here is God in the flesh. All others who have ever worked a miracle did so because it was His good pleasure to perform such – but it would be a serious mistake to view God as our miraculous errand boy. The nature of God is such that he can condescend be “the servant of many” but the errand boy of none.

The desire to command miracles at our own whim is presumptuous – in that we treat Him like a tame animal. It is also sinful; we must recognize who God is (and who is not).

Science, magic and faith

But – let’s suppose – you could perform one miracle any time you liked. You could rearrange the geography of the planet by throwing mountains into the sea. Thing of the reactions:

·         Science would respond by studying it carefully. We would soon have “levitationologists” at every major university. But central to this new science would be the idea that science would eventually figure out how you do this, and repeat it. After all, you can repeat it.

·         Those who believe in magic would ask for the exact wording of the prayer you use (or the incantation, or the command). Combine with Pentecostal fervor and you get the twin of science, magic.

·         Those of faith would say, “if God wills it.” Do you see how much weaker this appears to be? The scientist and magician can do it every time; faith depends upon God – who does it at His good pleasure. Is it any wonder we prefer science and magic to faith?

The worthlessness of self-reformation

There is one situation in which we desperately want to be in complete control: any situation where we aren’t. Self-control is a noble goal, but it is foolishness to think we can obtain it without help. That’s Christ’s point about the demons. We rely on our own initiative to approach this goal – that and the fact that the one person we can easily deceive is ourselves.

But as the politicians say, you can’t beat somebody with nobody. Relying on your own will power to reform yourself opens you up to Satan’s attack. You will need something greater than yourself. Christ gives us the parable concerning demons; sometimes demons come in different sizes and shapes.

Future Tense

We mentioned that demanding miracles at our own convenience is sinful. But can there be any doubt that we are in a downward spiral of morality? Man now thinks himself greater than God, and feels the right to demand miracles. “I’ll never believe until I see a real miracle” (and probably not even then.) Is the miraculous the grace of God, or the cheap change of the skeptic?

Liar, Lunatic or Lord

Mat 12:46-50 NIV While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. (47) Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you."[7] (48) He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" (49) Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. (50) For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

This entire section of Scripture, like many others, revolves around the question above all questions: just who is this Jesus of Nazareth. We may eliminate some popular answers right away:

·         He is not “a good teacher who said some nice things.” He consistently confronts his opponents with this. When someone calls Him good, he answers that only God is good.

·         Or you can take the “Jesus Seminar” approach – we’ll all vote on which of the things in the Gospels Jesus really said. And if we vote, that makes it so, doesn’t it? Or at least true for us?

C. S. Lewis put it succinctly: “Liar, lunatic or Lord.”

Liar

If He is a liar, he is the grandest, most successful liar of all time. He claimed to be God in the flesh – something even Hitler didn’t claim. Do this man’s words sound like those of a con artist? Do his actions look the same? Just what did this man cheat from others? There is no evidence for it – but then, see conspiracy theory again.

Lunatic

His mother rather thought this was the case:

Mar 3:20-21 NIV Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. (21) When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."

One can appreciate Mary’s concern. She’s a Jewish mother, and the boy hasn’t been eating right lately. Which shows us that Jesus had to convince the family as well. But if you go around claiming to be God, you’d best be prepared for this accusation.

But – one must ask it – are his words those of a raving lunatic? If this is insanity, it the greatest case of self-delusion in history. Do his words sound like this?

Lord

If I might repeat an analogy, Christ will let you sit on the fence in this issue – but the fence is sharply pointed. He tells you why:

·         First, He tells us that no one comes to God the Father except through the Son – Himself. So heaven and hell hang on the answer to this question.

·         He also tells us that all authority has been granted to Him – and that He will judge the living and the dead.

I can understand being careful in examining the evidence so that one might be sure about the answer. What puzzles me is why so many think the question to be relatively unimportant. Life and death? More important than that.

Who do you say He is?


[1] John 16:8

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